One queer couple’s experience with Stephen Colbert.
We got tickets to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Bucketlist! The specific dress code instructions were particularly worrisome because my wife is a visual activist. She wears clothes—loudly. Mindy wears gender non-conforming outfits coordinated to draw attention positive or negative, and we were now faced with the force multiplier of Jon Batiste, whose wardrobe is a subject of much study in our household.
We attempted to translate what “nice casual” might mean for Mindy on the big night. Would we be denied entry if her outfit truly blasphemed the fine print on our tickets? And if it wasn’t loud enough, would she still succeed in making meaningful eye contact with Batiste? That’s all she wanted. It was this wish that she made known to Lauren, one of very many stage hands corralling us. Lauren liked Mindy’s coat, which looked like Willy Wonka had a baby with my grandmother’s drapes. Lauren pulled us out of the line and said she wanted Jon to see what Mindy had on, so she saved us two seats up front.
We would now be directly in Jon’s eye line, ten paces from the guest chair. Before the taping begins, there is a warm up. Comedian Paul Mercurio immediately called upon me and Mindy. Her outfit got his attention. Our hand-holding got his attention. There was no scanning the crowd for better options. He bet on us first. We bounded onto the stage, hand in hand.
We said we’d been together almost twelve years and the audience exploded with applause. When he asked what Mindy did for a living, she said she was a visual activist. He wanted to know more, so Mindy began to preach on it. And the audience exploded with applause. They were speaking in our tongue. They understood us. Three hundred and fifty people lit us up with the overwhelming strength of their validation. Our love was good. They were rewarding our love, our living out loud, our living loudly. Never in a million years did we imagine such a miracle. It would’ve been more than enough, and the show hadn’t even really begun.
Up next was the band. Would Jon see Mindy—really see her? Yes, he would! He danced right over in front of us and gave her the nod. Mindy squealed and clapped so hard that her wedding ring left a huge bruise on the inside of her palm. Then Colbert came out and began the opening monologue. Ewan McGregor came out to promote the live action Beauty and the Beast film, in which he plays Lumiere. Though the animated French candlestick character was fairly gay, the new movie has given the gayness to LeFou, sidekick of the antagonist Gaston. Disney’s publicists have really been talking up the character’s gay identity as the first of its kind in a kids’ movie. McGregor dismissed Colbert’s inquiry out of hand, saying that it was 2017 and what on earth is the big deal about showing children a gay character. The audience screams with approval.
The second guest is Finn Wittrock, who stars opposite Sally Field in The Glass Menagerie this month. Field was on a few weeks ago and when she kissed Colbert on the mouth, he turned red, wilted and fell under the desk. Wittrock tells Colbert that Field said to give Colbert a kiss for her, but he then appears to demure from the actuality of doing so.. Colbert leaps into the gap left by Wittrock’s polite hesitancy and unfurls his right arm toward the back of Wittrock’s neck. The crowd went wild with anticipation, with preemptive approval noises rather than risqué censorship noises. Colbert leans over the desk to unabashedly peck Wittrock’s nervous lips, happy for a chance to remind us that he numbers among us, a proud ally who need not make too big of a deal about being a man that will kiss another man.
When they cut to commercial, Stay Human once again paraded down the aisles. This time Jon looked very pointedly at Mindy, paused on the step right in front of us and leaned down to her. He had the melodica in his face, crooning away on it, but his body language invited Mindy to approach. It was like watching Harry Potter approach Buckbeak when the formidable mythical hippogriff bowed to him. Mindy stood next to him on the step, put her arm around his back and staged whispered into his ear, “I love you.” Then she kissed his shoulder as he rested his right temple against her left temple and they just stood there for one forever-long second, Jon holding the note on his mouth piano before picking up the tempo and moving on down the aisle.
Colbert was waiting for The Shins to be ready and he casually drifted toward us. Mindy blew him a kiss. He smile broadly, then I gave him a toothy, cheesy grin back and waved floppily like a fourth grader. He chuckled silently and gave me back the same wave, looking me right in the eye. He introduced The Shin, who played “Name for You.” This is the end of the first verse and beginning of the chorus: “Somebody with an antique notion / Comes along to tighten the line / They’re just afraid of you speaking your mind // They’ve got a name for you girls / What’s in a name?”
Stay Human once again made the rounds through the audience and Colbert was waiting to do his exit. He came down the stair into the aisle and stood directly in front of us, then reached out his hand to me. I reached out my hand to him. We shook. Both of us had warm hands somehow, despite the freezing temperature in the theater. Then he turned to Mindy, took her in and said, “I like your jacket.” Earlier that morning at the hotel, she had laid out two jackets on the bed and deliberated over which one was right. Her decision was validated and we both beamed. Actually, all three of us beamed.
Then Colbert turned around, stepping slightly in front of us. He looked into the camera and said who the guests were for tomorrow with Mindy and I directly behind his left shoulder. Colbert always makes this announcement from this spot. The show runners collectively conspired to put us in the two seats where they could be absolutely certain the parting shot would broadcast this image of two loud, loving, happy, human queers all across America and the entire world. The Church of Colbert affirms us—it lifted us up and it wants us to be seen.
Throughout the pre-show, every person coaching us through it emphasized the audience is what makes the show great and possible. After the show, back outside on the street, many people approached us. They complimented Mindy’s outfit, thanked us for being out, said we did well, were funny, were nice, wanted to hug us. We have contact info for several people with whom we waited in line. We had great talks full of laughter and commiseration, vigorous nodding of heads and sharing of perspectives. As The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has finally achieved top dog status in late night, I am thinking deeply about how our kind is the majority.